Too Soon to Fight Sex Offender Passport Mark
OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge refused to halt enforcement of a new law requiring sex offenders to be identified as such on their passports, saying it's too soon to fight what offenders say is "a scarlet letter."
Under the International Megan's Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking, passports issued to registered sex offenders whose crimes involved minors will contain an identifying mark. The form of the mark has not yet been decided.
The law also requires the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to notify foreign governments when registered sex offenders are visiting their countries, and those departments will also receive notifications when sex offenders come to the United States from abroad.
Attorney Janice Bellucci, president of the civil rights group California Reform Sex Offender Laws, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the anonymous plaintiffs days after the bill was signed by President Barack Obama in February. The lawsuit compares the required mark to a "scarlet letter," and "an international travel blacklist."
Following a hearing last month, U.S. District Chief Judge Phyllis Hamilton on Wednesday rejected a motion to halt implementation of the law, saying that while domestic travel may be a fundamental right, there is no such right to international travel.
Moreover, she wrote, a timeline for implementation isn't even in the works at this point, and the State Department said it isn't prepared to start placing identifiers on U.S. passports. The department says its best estimate to begin marking sex offenders' passports is sometime around the end of 2016.
"Here, based solely on the statutory language, it is not clear, for example, what form the identifier will take, which citizens will be required to carry a passport with the identifier, or whether the identifier will appear on the face of the passport or will be readable only by a scanner," Hamilton wrote. "Thus, because significant steps must be taken before the passport identifier can be implemented, the court finds that plaintiffs' challenge is not yet ripe."